Saturday, March 2, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Jar of Fools

Title: Jar of Fools
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes
Image via Inside Pulse

Jason Lutes, writer and artist for the Berlin series, initially serialized Jar of Fools as a comic strip for The Standard, a Seattle weekly newspaper for which he also served as art director.  The collection was first published in 1994 in two parts by Black Eye Productions.  Drawn & Quarterly published the single-volume edition in 2003.

Jar of Fools is certainly not a happy story.  The protagonist is Ernie, a washed-up magician.  Through the course of events, he finds himself living under a highway overpass with his mentor, his ex-girlfriend, a con-man and the con-man's young daughter.  Having hit rock-bottom, the gang works desperately to find a path back to meaningful lives.

I think Lutes's greatest gift is character development.  In both Berlin and this story, my feeling of investment in his characters' well-being is very strong.  Faces, hair, clothing and posture are all clear projections of personality and emotion.

Magic is a big theme in Lutes's work.  He has also published a biography of Harry Houdini in graphic novel form: Houdini: The Handcuff King.  I'll have to keep an eye out for that one.


  1. I like that you mention posture.

    1. I highly recommend Lutes's work to you. Character investment is essential to long-term success in the comics biz and Lutes is one of the best I've seen at inspiring it. This book's good but Berlin is better.

      I also recommend the non-fiction works of Scott McCloud. Even for someone not interested in comic books, any aspiring storyteller could learn a lot from the medium and McCloud does an excellent job dissecting it. His most recent book, Making Comics, devotes significant time to body posture as an expression of character - far beyond my own artist chops but very interesting nonetheless. Understanding Comics is a better book to start with, though.

    2. Thank you, I've looked up the McCloud book.